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What if we aren’t a peculiar people?

April 21, 2009

The Mormon church teaches that its members are a “peculiar people,” and when you look at Mormon beliefs and practices, I guess it’s not too far of a stretch. To justify some particular rules that we follow (Word of Wisdom, Law of Chastity, etc.,) we wear our peculiarity as a badge of honor. In the world, but not of it. And son on.

And furthermore, this idea is not just a Mormon idea. Exceptionalism is something that most children are taught. I don’t have the research handy for a link, but several studies have found that most children generally view themselves as being exceptional. Despite the reality that there are limited spots for universities, limited job opportunities in upper echelon careers, etc., most people believe they will be the ones who are earning more than average, scoring higher than average, etc., It just seems like a matter of course. And intuitively, I don’t know of anyone who *seriously* consigns himself to mediocrity (or worse!)

As a long-time honor student, I’ve had the same feeling. I haven’t been so lofty-minded to think I’d be number 1 all the time, and in fact, I know enough to know that I am utterly outclassed by some people and subjects. Yet, I have a belief that things will work out. And yet…what happens when things don’t work out? What happens…for example, when we become unemployed? Scott’s post at By Common Consent does a great job (and there’s a similar situation at Mormon Mentality by ESO) at hitting some themes I’ve seen in other areas of my life or in other people’s lives (and especially in addressing the unique Mormon intricacies of such an event.) But I wanted to comment further…what do I think as a nonbeliever?

I realize that in my life, I just take it for granted that I’ll get an accounting internship for next spring…and that I’ll be able to get a job soon after that. Even in this economy, I just take it for granted that I’ll be able to push forward, do my 100%, and then get the gold. I spend so much of my life planning and preparing that I just internalize that things must work out, even if it’s a B, C, or D plan. Getting all the way through Plan Z and having THAT fail is unthinkable.

But as I thought about what Scott wrote…I began to realize something. In particular, his section on communicating with God.

Confidence in Communing with God
A second theme I’ve seen in my own life and in those around me who are facing job loss is a tendency to question past revelation.This is a dangerous position spiritually; in my experience, there are few more efficient ways of ensuring the complete loss of the companionship of the Holy Ghost than to begin questioning every prompting you’ve ever had. I knew this, but somehow I could not stop the doubts and uncertainty from invading my mind and driving out the remaining bits of faith I had in myself and in my ability to pray. In the latter stages of my fruitless job search, I described this feeling in my journal:

“My friend and I were talking the other night about what happens to a person’s mental, emotional, and spiritual state of being when they walk for thirty years believing, for reasons good or bad, that they are special—like in the God-has-a-special-plan-for-you kind of special; the you’re-going-to-knock-em-dead-at-whatever-you-do kind of special—and then you wake up one day and realize that you’re absolutely, positively, simply average. And worst of all, you’re not sure if you’re simply average because you screwed everything up—you could have been great, but you didn’t work hard enough or missed the right path to take in life because you can’t understand the Spirit—or if you’re simply average because you are simply average, and you were just deluded your whole life into thinking something else. Either way it is a painful moment and it makes you want to stop trying to be great—forget your dreams, forget your lofty goals and expectations, forget the promises you’ve made to your family, forget spending your golden years in full time service in the Church as a missionary or otherwise—just go get a regular day job and work by the sweat of your brow all the days of your life. The past months have destroyed any confidence I once had in my ability to make decisions and receive inspiration through prayer. I just feel like I really missed the mark in choosing this path, and then missed it again in wanting to remain in this path, and now I’m totally lost. My prayers are silent and I struggle (and fail) to not pray bitterly and angrily, because I have no idea if I’m being heard at all.It just sucks.”

This was a moving part for me, because one of the mysteries for me has been…how do people come from a position where they have had a spiritual experience to not believing? My position (in my opinion) seems straightforward…I don’t believe because I’ve never had any spiritual experience that could justify a belief, and I would find it strange to say, “I once fully believed, but now I don’t.” I recognize that for those who do have spiritual experiences, it would be unreasonable for me to encourage them not to believe in spite of that, just as it would be unreasonable for others to encourage me to believe in spite of my circumstances. I don’t think that spiritual experiences are necessarily indicative of any higher power, but since they *are* experienced, why not sustain it if you have it?

Well…if you think you’ve been betrayed, then that might be a reason you no longer can sustain it.

If you’ve come to expect peculiarity, exceptionalism, incredibility, and giftedness, and then you run against a wall, you might legitimately doubt everything you had expected.

This is where I thought about my philosophy. My philosophy is heavily based on trying to analyze the expectations that I have about the way the universe works and then eliminate baseless expectations. If we take things for granted, such as ideas like the goodness of humanity, the universe,  God…whatever…or  if we EXPECT people and things to treat us a certain way, then when people, the universe, or whatever fails to meet these expectations, we have unnecessarily set ourselves up for disappointment.

So, in a way, I have no problem with atheism not making any grandstanding claims. I have no problem not hoping for a heaven at the end of the tunnel. I have no problem with these things because I know I’m not setting myself up for the potential that all of my dreams and expectations could betray me. At best, I will be pleasantly surprised, but not betrayed.

But still…I’m not perfect…even for my philosophy. I can’t shake the feeling that some people owed me better treatment than they gave, so I still get hung up sometimes. I can’t shake the idea that my effort should be sufficient for whatever my goals are, so I get hung up when I don’t reach these things.

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  1. I thought every starry-eyed teenager is doomed to eventually go through this.

    It’s called a mid-life crisis.

  2. so if we stop being starry-eyed earlier, then is crisis averted?

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